Dr. John Tooker received the ASU Outstanding Alumnus Award


dr. john tooker

At the Adams State fall 2000 commencement ceremony, Dr. John Tooker '66 encouraged the graduates to seek ways to serve others and to look forward. Tooker lived the words he spoke. Throughout his life he has sought opportunities to improve health care for all.

Tooker is the 2014 Adams State University Outstanding Alumnus. "I was totally floored when I learned of the honor. Adams State has many great people." He will speak about healthcare and healthcare policy at a free noontime lecture on Thursday, Oct. 9, in Porter Hall room 130.

Tooker will be honored at the Adams State Alumni Homecoming Banquet, Friday, October 10. The dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Student Union Building first floor banquet rooms. Tickets are $25 per person and may be reserved by calling 719-587-7609.

Struck by Serendipity

He appreciates the solid foundation he received at Adams State. "I think Adams State chose me," Tooker said. He grew up in Alamosa and attended Alamosa High School. "My parents were very supportive and encouraged us to go to college, but with four children, did not have the means for financial assistance." Living in Alamosa, and affordable tuition, made Adams State the most logical choice. "Still today, Adams State offers high quality affordable education for people."

Tooker started college soon after turning 17, having skipped a grade. Tooker said he was "pretty young," finding the transition to college challenging while managing college level courses and working several part-time jobs his first couple of years at Adams State. "By the time I became a junior I gained a little more confidence and began to have a sense of a career path."

Tooker was in a junior level English Lit class with Dr. Beryl McAdow, emeritus professor of English, when "serendipity" struck. "Although I majored in chemistry, my major professor and advisor, Dr. Kay Watkins, emeritus professor of chemistry, and I both knew I was not destined to be a chemist." McAdow happened to comment on the importance of the humanities and made an "impassioned plea" for the need for service to others. "There it was, a marriage of science and the humanities: I want to be a doctor."

Watkins remembers Tooker as a very good chemistry student and me an outstanding athlete. "He was very popular on campus."

Along with realizing a clear professional goal in his junior year, Tooker said his "body caught up" and he was encouraged by Coach Duane Mehn to come out for the track and football teams as a walk-on. Receiving athletic scholarships and taking a work-study job as a nighttime custodian in the Art Department and weekend hall monitor for the Music Building eased the financial burden of attending college and the need to work multiple part-time jobs.

Adams State's athletic programs were also instrumental to helping Tooker develop competitive mental and physical skills and focus on what mattered. He was fortunate to be selected in football as an all-conference safety and was a conference champion hurdler and co-captain of the track team. The financial aid also provided time for other college activities, such as student government.

Overall, Tooker said the support of his professors and their steady presence and mentoring contributed greatly to his the quality of his Adams State education. While all the professors were supportive, several professors bear particular mention.

McAdow provided the inspiration to pursue a career in medicine; Watkins, having grown up in Alamosa too, was a role model for the idea that a "kid from a small town can be successful on a bigger stage;" and while in high school, Tooker had Dr. Joe Vigil as a motivating biology teacher and track and football coach. Vigil worked at a gas station in the early morning and then came to the high school to teach and coach. "He demonstrated how hard work and determination were fundamental to achieving one's goals."

Another strong influence and supporter during Tooker's Adams State academic career was Dr. Fred Plachy, then the Adams State President. Plachy made a special trip to Denver to meet with the dean of admissions at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Dr. Hope Lowry, to advocate for Tooker's admission to medical school, asking Dean Lowry to "give this kid a chance."

A Born Leader

Leadership comes naturally to Tooker, who served as his high school class president, president of the Adams State Associated Students and Faculty, and president of his medical school class. Tooker currently is the president of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society; is the Emeritus Executive Vice President and CEO of the American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest medical specialty society in the United States, and is an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Tooker retired from the ACP in 2010.

"Leadership opportunities always seemed to happen," Tooker said. "I worked my way up at Adams State and in medical school. Leadership provides opportunities to accomplish a goal through relating to people." He believes a good leader knows how to listen well and stands by his/her principles. "There are good days and not-so-good days; you learn from mistakes and move on."

Outside the campus, Tooker struck up a friendship with his family physician, Dr. Littleton Bunch, who, at the time, lived only a few doors down. Adams State was primarily a teacher's college and very few graduates went on to medical school. Having a medical doctor role model to discuss his future career path helped Tooker gain a perspective about entering the medical field. "Dr. Bunch was a good friend to our family and to me. Through our conversations I began to see my future."

Prepared to Compete

In the competitiveness of medical school and professional life, Tooker remained "proud of my education at Adams State," in the midst of students and then colleagues from elite institutions of higher learning. "I felt, in the end, that my Adams State education prepared me well for very competitive professional environments."

With the spring board from Adams State, Tooker launched into the medical field continuing to achieve goals and striving to "be of service" to others. "I am fortunate to be surrounded by extraordinary people attracted to the medical field and the patients we treated." During an internship at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, Tooker realized the world is a "big place." There were more patients at Bellevue than the population of Alamosa.

Tooker said he chose the right profession for him. "I am a strong believer in serendipity, when the unexpected influence of someone really changes your life. Graduate education and medicine have many of these influential people. As I look back at my mentors, including my patients, so many made an impression on me."

To say Tooker's decision to become a medical doctor benefited his patients would be an understatement, his philosophy of looking forward and seeking new way to serve led him to a prestigious career and accepting positions to affect the health field on a national level.

The current executive vice president and CEO of the American College of Physicians, Steven Weinberger, MD, FACP, admired Tooker's work with the ACP. "Dr. Tooker was universally recognized as one of the most effective healthcare leaders in America. It's hard to name anyone who has had such a command over all the issues in healthcare or who has worked so effectively with the countless stakeholders in Washington and around the country who are having an impact on health care in the U.S. His goal was always to make health care and the healthcare system better for all Americans, and through his work at ACP, he succeeded admirably in this effort."

The ACP represents more than 135,000 internal medicine specialists and subspecialists, and medical students. While serving in the prestigious position, Tooker received an Executive Master of Business Administration from the Fox School of Business at Temple University. "I needed to step out of medicine and learn the discipline of organizational administration."

Tooker has a "sense of fulfillment of something done well" when contemplating his long career in health care. He continues to advocate for affordable and quality health care for patients across the globe and education. "The science of medicine will take care of itself. We have so much more to do to improve health and health care, not just in the United States but around the world."

Tooker's wife, Nancy, a critical care nurse, passed away after a long struggle with colon cancer in 2013. He is grateful for his two children, Graham and Evan, who live in the greater Philly area. "I enjoy intimate gatherings with close family and friends." Currently he is writing and editing a book about the ACP centennial to be celebrated next year.

Athletic Accomplishments:
Drafted by the Miami Dolphins, "I told them if I was accepted to medical school, I'd go to medical school and not play."

Military Service:
US Navy physician (LCDR) during the Vietnam War

Current Board Memberships:
National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA), previously chaired,
National Quality Forum (NQF), chaired the CEO Search Committee Health Level 7 (HL7), Advisory Committee
Alpha Omega Alpha (AA) Honor Medical Society, President

Speaker topics:
Health care reform
Health information technology
Patient-centered medical home (PCMH)
Improving health care quality

Recent Honors:
American Medical Association Medical Executive Lifetime Achievement Award (2010)
Mastership, American College of Physicians (2010)
Modern Healthcare, Voted one of the "100 Most Powerful People in Health Care" (2009)

Assistant Chief of the Department of Medicine and Critical Care Medicine and program director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, where he practiced internal medicine and pulmonary and critical care medicine;
Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Adams State College
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Internal medicine residency at the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Medical Center and the University of Colorado,
Pulmonary/critical care fellowship at the Maine Medical Center and the University of Washington
Master in Business Administration, Fox School of Business @ Temple University